Universities are warning students about their conduct as they head to orientation week around the country over the next fortnight.
Universities Australia will also start trials of a new online respectful relationships program it is developing with Our Watch, the leading agency dedicated to preventing violence against women.
The university peak body’s chairwoman, Margaret Gardner, urged students to look out for each other during orientation events.
“O Week is meant to be a time for new friendships and fun experiences before getting into study for the year – but we also want all students to be safe,” she told AAP in a statement.
“I want to be very clear once again: to any student who thinks it’s okay to have sex without the other person’s consent, think again. It’s not.”
The new relationships education program will be developed specifically for students in Australian universities based on research from experts in violence prevention and online learning.
Students will test it over the next 18 months.
It is part of universities’ ongoing work to prevent and act on sexual assault and harassment after a 2016 Human Rights Commission report found half of all students had been the victim of sexual harassment that year – a quarter in a university setting – and one-in-15 had been sexually assaulted.
“Sexual violence affects every country in the world — preventing it is a global challenge and our universities have stepped up to play their part,” Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said.
“No single program on its own can bring about change and that’s why this training will work in concert with a comprehensive university sector-led program to enhance counselling services, reporting policies, training for staff and wider violence prevention efforts.”
Our Watch is also helping universities develop a broader respect and equality program, including a new set of workplace standards, training packages, resources and toolkits for university leaders, staff and students to promote gender equality.
The tertiary education regulator last week said universities were responding comprehensively to the challenge of tackling assaults and harassment.
All now offer counselling services and report incident data internally, and almost all have set up a sexual assault and harassment task force and are collaborating with an external counselling provider.